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Philips Hue's fall update: Vintage bulbs, smart buttons and a big bet on Bluetooth

Forget pumpkin spice -- fall means new smart lights bulbs and accessories from Philips Hue.

The Philips Hue family of smart bulbs keeps getting bigger.

Signify

I really hate to break it to you, but summer is dwindling away here -- and the latest bellwether is the smart lighting stalwart Philips Hue, which makes a habit of announcing new products around this time of year. Sure enough, today the brand is introducing all sorts of additions to its product lineup, including new vintage-style smart bulbs, a second-gen version of the portable Philips Hue Go, and new Philips Hue smart plugs and smart buttons for triggering your lights.

Philips Hue parent company Signify is on the ground in Berlin to debut everything at this week's IFA tech showcase. We'll be sure to update this post as soon as we get a close look at all of it for ourselves. For now, here's a quick rundown of everything new:

  • Philips Hue Vintage-Style LED Bulbs (with Zigbee and Bluetooth)
    $25 - $33, available October 2019
  • Philips Hue Go (second-gen with Zigbee and Bluetooth)
    $80, available November 2019
  • Philips Hue White Candelabra LED (with Zigbee and Bluetooth)
    $33 2-pack, available September 2019
  • Philips Hue White Ambiance/White and Color GU10 Spotlights (with Zigbee and Bluetooth)
    $50 2-pack, available September 2019
  • Philips Hue Smart Plug (with Zigbee and Bluetooth)
    $40, available October 2019
  • Philips Hue Smart Button (with Zigbee and Bluetooth)
    $20, available October 2019

It's all about Bluetooth

First things first -- the big story with Philips Hue this year is that the brand is adding Bluetooth support into all of its new lights. Everything still uses Zigbee to communicate with the Philips Hue Bridge, but adding in that additional Bluetooth radio lets users skip the Bridge altogether and connect the bulbs direct to their phone or tablet for simplified local lighting control, including the ability to pair direct with certain Alexa and Google Assistant devices. From there, adding in the Bridge enables access to advanced Hue features like Hue Entertainment TV lighting and Google Assistant wake-up fades, as well as integrations like Apple HomeKit that still require a Hue Bridge.

It's a big change for the brand, but also a smart move because it means that curious shoppers only need to pick up a single bulb in order to take Philips Hue for a test drive. Hue's white light LEDs start at $15 each -- before, you needed to spend at least $70 or so on an entire Philips Hue starter kit that packages the bulbs with the Bridge. Make that $150 or more if you wanted a kit with bulbs that changed colors. Now, you can play with a color-changing Bluetooth Hue bulb for a buy-in of $50.

That's still pricey at a time when smart lights are getting easier and easier to afford, but it's still a big step in the right direction. And, with lots of new Bluetooth-enabled bulbs joining the lineup, you'll have all sorts of relatively inexpensive entry points into the Hue ecosystem.

philips-hue-vintage-style-led-light-bulbs-packaging

The rumors were true: Vintage-style Philips Hue bulbs are officially here.

Signify

Modern smarts, vintage looks

Front and center among these new Bluetooth-enabled Hue bulbs is a new suite of vintage-styled Hue White lights with fake filaments inside. Rather than the glowing tungsten of Thomas Edison, the filaments are composed of a series of light-emitting diodes strung together in a line and then twisted into artsy spirals for an attractive, old-school aesthetic.

The rumor mill nailed this one earlier in the summer when images of the new bulbs leaked online. Signify made it official today, with new vintage Hue bulbs coming in a classic A shape, an elongated ST19 shape, and as a G25-shaped globe. Hat-tip to the European tech blog iCulture, which predicted in June that we'd see three different versions of the bulb launching this fall.

Signify pegs each of the three designs at 530 lumens bright at an extra-warm, candle-like color temperature of 2,100 K. Philips Hue Head of Technology George Yianni calls that "the sweet spot" for bulbs like these, and I'd tend to agree. At 530 lumens, they fall into the middle ground between 40W accent lights (450 lumens) and your common, 60W primary light source (800 lumens). That makes them bright enough to help light up the room, but not so bright that it's uncomfortable to look directly at them, which is important, since the whole point is to use them in exposed bulb setups and not to hide them under a lampshade.

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Yianni calls the trio of old-timey bulbs "a first wave," saying that, over time, the plan is to add more bulbs like them to the Philips Hue lineup. It might be a while before any of them change colors, though. The diodes themselves can only put out one color at a time, so you'd need different diodes for different colors. That's fine if the diodes are hidden under a clouded bulb like with regular Hue LEDs, but with vintage-style bulbs like these where the diodes are visible, it would make for ugly-looking filaments with lots of weird gaps depending on which color or color temperature setting you were using.

"We've not yet found a way to make it look good enough for our aesthetic standards," Yianni says, though he adds that color-changing versions are definitely on the wish list.

philips-hue-go-promo.jpg

The first-gen Philips Hue Go needed to stay within range of the Hue Bridge for full control from your phone. With the addition of Bluetooth, you'll be able to take the second-gen version with you wherever you like.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

A Hue Go that goes wherever you want

One new product that will change colors: A second-gen version of the Philips Hue Go, a portable, bowl-shaped light fixture that you can unplug and take with you around the house thanks to a built-in battery. 

The addition of Bluetooth seems particularly relevant here. With the first-gen version, you need to be within range of a Hue Bridge in order to control it with the Hue app. Now, you'll be able to take the Go wherever you like -- camping trips, cookouts, the beach, you name it -- and control the brightness and color direct from your phone.

To that end, the new Go is also promising much better battery life -- up from 2-3 hours to as much as 18 hours. It's brighter, too, with a maximum light output of 520 lumens, up from 400 lumens from the first version. Signify also says that it'll dim down all the way to 1.2 lumens, which might make the Hue Go an ideal pick for your kid's nightstand, especially if they enjoy using Hue's Google Assistant wake-up fades to ease them out of bed in the morning.

Hue's new button can trigger lights with just a click, while a new smart plug promises to bring your lamps into play.

Signify

A brainy button and an overpriced plug

From the Click Smart Switch to the Lutron Aurora, we've seen a growing number of Philips Hue accessories over the past year that each aim to give users better physical control over their smart lights. Now, Signify is adding a product of its own to the pile with a new single-button remote that's called, quite simply, the Philips Hue Smart Button.

The Smart Button's built-in magnet lets you stick it up on the fridge -- meanwhile, the Smart Plug lets you add things like string lights into your Hue setup.

Signify

Promising three years of juice from a single coin-style battery, the Smart Button pairs with Hue bulbs over Bluetooth or Zigbee. From there, just click once to turn the lights on or off, double click to change between scenes, or long press to dim up and down. Signify adds that you can program the button to turn the lights on to different settings depending on the time of day, which is a nice touch.

The Button also includes a built-in magnet that lets you stick the thing to a baseplate in the wall when you aren't using it, but you could just as easily nest it on the fridge or any other magnet-friendly surface.

The other new Philips Hue accessory is one that users have wanted for years now -- a Philips Hue Smart Plug. It'll work just like other smart plugs that let you automate whatever you plug in behind it. The obvious appeal for Philips Hue users is that you'll be able to use it to add lamps, string lights and other fixtures to your smart lighting setup.

Signify adds that the plug "works with everything Hue works with," which brings Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Apple HomeKit and more into play. 

The only downside is the absurd $40 price tag. Most other smart plugs cost closer to $20, and if you're controlling your lights via a third-party platform like Alexa or Apple HomeKit anyway, then you won't care at all if your plug doesn't show up in the Hue app.

We'll be testing all of the new Hue products at the CNET Smart Home in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to see how those brightness, battery-life and connectivity claims hold up. But as far as first impressions go, each one seems like a sensible addition to the Philips Hue ecosystem -- and with the exception of the plug, the prices aren't too painful, either.